We currently have a small collection of late 19th and early 20th century cosmetic samples from our Advertising Ephemera Collection in the lab for stabilization and rehousing. The majority of the samples are little paper envelopes with loose powder inside, but one of them contained a fun little surprise.
This sample of Charles Meyer Exora Rouge was quite a bit thicker than the others and I could feel a tiny, rigid container inside. The adhesive on the envelope flap was easily released and inside was the smallest tin I’ve ever seen.
By Rachel Penniman, Senior Conservation Technician
Sometimes items come to the lab that have so many problems we just can’t predict how the treatment will go at first glance. These items from the Reva Korda papers were that kind of challenge.
Mounted advertisements before treatment.
These four advertisements had been mounted onto foam core backing board that was deteriorating and delaminating. They had also been exposed to water which caused mold, warping, and two of the ads stuck to the back of two other ads. Because the ads were stuck together, we couldn’t even see what the bottom two ads looked like.
Mounted advertisements stuck together and warping.
With all the condition issues there were plenty of ways for this treatment to go wrong. The back of the ads could get skinned or tear as I tried to remove the backing boards. The mold could have completely disfigured the lower ads. The ads stuck to the backing boards could be stuck so irreversibly that we would lose parts of the image in trying to separate them. We had a meeting with the curators to discuss the range of options. We decided that because the bottom two advertisements were so completely obscured, it was worth making an effort to separate them even if it resulted in a little bit of loss. I first planned to try mechanically removing the foam core backing boards and separating the stuck ads either mechanically or with a little humidification. If that didn’t work we agreed to have another meeting to discuss more invasive treatments like full immersion in a water or solvent bath.
The first step was to remove as much of the mold as possible with a soft brush and vacuum. Once that was done I started trying to separate the ads from their backing boards. Sometimes conservators really hate how old adhesives turn yellow and brittle with age, but when an adhesive has aged so poorly that it fails completely it can actually make our jobs easier. In this case, on three of the advertisements the dry mount adhesive had become so brittle that with the tiniest bit of pressure I was able to slip a thin metal spatula between the board and the advertisement and it just popped right off. Success! It was very satisfying separating these from their foam core boards. Using a little bit of solvent on swabs I was able to remove most of the yellow adhesive residue from the back of each advertisement.
Back of one advertisement before yellow adhesive was removed and after adhesive was removed.
The fourth advertisement had a different adhesive that felt soft and waxy. Sadly for me, it was still doing its job and was holding the ad firmly to its backing board. In 2014 our lab hosted a photograph conservation workshop taught by Gawain Weaver. We learned a number of methods for removing photographs from mounts. I recognized this waxy feeling adhesive from that workshop and remembered doing tests on how to most easily remove it.
Thank goodness for taking good notes and keeping all my test samples!
By placing the advertisement face down on a piece of blotter on a hotplate on the lowest setting I was able to soften the adhesive so I could separate the final ad off its backing board. More success!
I was able to separate the ads that were stuck together but some of the paper from the foam core board remained stuck to the faces of the ads. This was far better than the alternative where some of the face of the advertisement could have been skinned off though so I considered that a win.
Advertisements that had been stuck on the bottom with paper still attached to the front.
I was able to remove all of the attached paper with water or alcohol on swabs pretty easily. There was still some discoloration from the mold but the alcohol helped to reduce it. Mostly success!
Previously hidden advertisements after the paper was removed.
While these ads still show evidence of their hard life they are now free of their bad mounts, failing adhesive, and separated from each other. The discoloration from mold and water damage will remain, but at least now we can see what had previously been completely hidden. It’s always a happy surprise when something goes smoother and more easily than anticipated. It’s a rare treat. With the very low expectations for the treatment it was an extra special pleasure to be able to show the previously unseen advertisements to the curators.
One of my favorite aspects of my job is getting to closely examine books from our collection and learn more about how they have been used and maintained over time. A binding’s current condition or the way in which it has been repaired can tell you a lot about its value and use, but I am also very interested in the variety of the techniques or craftsmanship found in historical book repairs. The history of book repair is as long as the format has existed, and the level of proficiency can range from crude utilitarian (like this example) to a more subtle sophistication (such as our current standard of repair). We have shared examples of historical repairs from the collection before, but I found this next item to be very interesting in its execution and level of workmanship.
This 16th century atlas in a full calfskin binding has obviously been through a great deal and has been extensively repaired. The spine has been rebacked in dyed calfskin, the corners have all been repaired, and large areas of loss have been filled with new leather. I cannot say for certain when these repairs were done or even if they were all done at the same time, but suffice to say they are not recent. Several techniques have been used to blend the repairs with the original binding material and they are marginally successful in this regard. Click the photos below to enlarge.
New leather has been applied to the spine in the way of a typical reback: the original covering material has been lifted and new material has been adhered underneath. Nothing unusual there. The board corners and edges, however, have been repaired with onlays, or very thin pieces of calfskin adhered on top. Lines have been tooled in blind over the reback and onlays to continue the original decoration around the boards.
The fore-edge corner of the lower board has been repaired with a large inlay. Inlays are shaped pieces of leather of the same thickness as the original material, which fill the area of loss. My favorite part of this repair is the decoration which attempts to imitate the original floral patterns at the corners. The image below shows an intact original corner with decoration on the left and the decorated inlay on the right for comparison.
The binder who executed this repair did not have decorative rolls or stamps to match, so they just kind of made it up. The lines in this corner decoration are quite rough and shallow, which makes me think they were just drawn into the dampened leather, rather than actually impressed. Decorative rolls have been used around the outer edge of this corner, but they are quite different from the other decoration on the book. The binding has been heavily dressed, resulting in a very shiny surface to the leather.
It is apparent that a great deal of time and effort was put into this repair and it is successful insofar as it is still structurally sound and allows the book to function. We would approach treatment for a similar item very differently today, however.
According to legend, St. Patrick chased all of the snakes out of Ireland in the fifth century. We see snakes occasionally here in the conservation lab – just in book form. This binding is supposedly covered in python and features some very colorful endsheets.
Eddie Cameron is a very well known figure around campus. His forty-six year career with the athletics program is the second longest tenure in Duke’s history and our indoor stadium was renamed for him in 1972.
The Edmund M. Cameron Records in the University Archives consists of nearly 14 linear feet of materials produced during his career, and includes three large scrapbooks. Those scrapbooks were adopted for conservation treatment recently through our Adopt-a-Book Program and, over the course of treating one of them, I was able to (quite literally) see Cameron in a whole new way.
Two of the scrapbooks in the collection focus on particular bowl games, but the third is a more general collection of photographs and newspaper clippings from Cameron’s time at Duke. The scrapbook is no longer bound and is currently stored as loose sheets in an over-sized records box.
During my initial examination, I came across a large folded sheet at the bottom of the stack, which I could pretty quickly tell was a large drawing executed with a few different colors of marker.
The thick, machine-made paper had been folded in half three times so that it could fit inside the scrapbook. Two of the edges of the sheet had been rough-cut with scissors, leading me to believe that the paper came off of a large roll. Short pieces of masking tape had been applied along the outer edges of the sheet, presumably to mount it on a wall. There were also stains along the folds and some significant scarf tears. In consultation with the University Archivist, the decision was made to unfold and repair this drawing. We decided not to pursue stain reduction as a part of this treatment, but it could be an option for the future.
The adhesive of the masking tape had become desiccated and powdery, so I was able to simply remove the carrier layer of the tape and gently brush adhesive from the paper surface. The front and back of the poster were then dry-cleaned with white vinyl eraser crumbs to remove any surface dirt or grime. Since the paper was quite thick and had not become brittle, I was able to unfold the sheet during cleaning, but it remained heavily creased and undulated. After testing all of the inks for solubility, the folded poster was placed in a humidity chamber for a couple of hours and then moved to a large felt stack to press for several weeks. When fully flattened, the tears were mended with toned Japanese paper and wheat starch paste.
The drawing is not signed and we may never know the name of the artist, but I really like it. I think that it captures Cameron’s likeness pretty successfully. The unfolded poster is quite large (39″ x 30″), so it was placed in a Bristol board folder and will now live safely in flat file storage.
I am wrapping up treatment on the three Cameron scrapbooks now. With some repairs and new enclosures, they are now much easier to handle and have already been getting some use. On March 1, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl trophy was on display in Perkins Library, along with other historical Duke football memorabilia from the University Archives. Cameron’s scrapbook about the 1945 Sugar Bowl was one of the items on display.
Day 1: An alternative to scanning mice eyes Mr. Toth’s sister, Dr. Cynthia Toth, is an ophthalmologist at the Duke Eye Center. She uses optical coherence tomography (OCT) to scan premature infants’ eyes to detect neurological and visual problems. Dr. Toth and Mr. Toth coordinated time with Dr. Sina Farsiu and his graduate student Guorong Li to image a few papyri from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Dr. Farsiu uses OCT in his research. When he isn’t kindly imaging papyri, he is scanning mice eyes. Dr. Farsiu also coordinated time in Dr. Adam Wax’s lab in the Biomedical Engineering Department where we used their OCT scanner to image the papyri using a slightly different set up. Dr. Wax’s team is usually scanning rat esophagi and mice eyes, so a day with papyri was a bit out of their wheelhouse but everyone seemed to enjoy the collaboration. The Raleigh News & Observer was there as well and posted this story.
Mike Adamo from the DPC and I escorted the Rubenstein collection materials to the Duke Eye Center and the Biomedical Engineering lab. My role was to provide safe transportation across campus, and to handle the fragile items. Having researched OCT, I felt that this was a safe, non-destructive imaging technique for the papyri. It’s hard to say what the outcome of the OCT scanning will be, but it has potential to reveal hidden media, which is exciting to think about.
Day 2: MSI Scanning in DPC On Wednesday, Toth and Christens-Berry set up their MSI equipment in the DUL Digital Production Center. Their system scans at a variety of UV and IR wavelengths. The Library was interested in testing a range of problems to see what this system could reveal. The materials we scanned included several papyri with obscured text, two early Hebrew manuscripts whose writing is almost completely obscured by the condition of the gevil, a bound book with a Latin manuscript paste-down that is obscured by a previously adhered bookplate, and a Greek manuscript that was scraped and written over. All of these items present common problems for researchers using ancient texts.
Proof of Concept The work that we did on Tuesday and Wednesday was meant to provide “proof of concept” for the conversations that must happen regarding funding, staffing, training, workflows and service expectations if the Library were to develop an MSI scanning workflow.
Conservation is excited about MSI for its potential to discover more about the materials we work on. Having the ability to image in both UV and IR would expand our knowledge of the materials, expose information we can’t see with the naked eye, and enable us to envision better treatments. I think we are all excited for its potential to provide access to materials that right now cannot be easily used or read, such as the Hebrew manuscripts and the hidden texts on the papyri cartonnage. We literally had a “Holy [Cow]” moment when we saw these materials give up their secrets. It gave me goosebumps.
Mike Adamo wrote a blog post for Bitstreams describing their side of this project.
Conservators can be a bit obsessive when it comes to hand tools. Not only must a tool be well suited to perform a specific task, but it must also be ergonomic. If a stock tool is not quite right for the job, I may modify it or just make the tool that I need from scratch. Making or adapting tools does not have to be time consuming or expensive, and some of my favorite tools are quite simple.
For example, I find myself doing a lot of lifting and scraping in my day-to-day work. Original binding material may need to be lifted or damaged paper may have small scarf tears that need to be manipulated. Scraping may be an effective method for mechanically removing accretions, desiccated adhesive, or old lining material. The following three examples are my favorite tools for these tasks, which I have either modified, fabricated, or purchased.
The Casselli 6 1/8″ micro-spatula is great for lifting very thin material, like paper. The size of the spatula ends and thin, flexible steel make it perfect for a lot of small tasks.
Two modifications have really improved the working properties of this tool for me: shaping the rounded edge and making the center handle thicker. I have left the pointy end of my spatula unmodified, but I added a single bevel to the rounded end with 3M micro-finishing film abrasive to make it more like a blade. This allows me to get the tool underneath very thin material. The unmodified octagonal handle is fine for quick work, but really becomes tiresome on the pads of my index finger and thumb after lengthy use. I used a common material known as Elastack (by Sutton Scientifics, Inc.) to increase the circumference of the handle and make it more comfortable to hold. Elastack is available in two levels of softness and is very quick to apply or re-wrap to adjust the shape of a tool.
The Casselli is not robust or sharp enough for lifting heavy material (such as leather), so for those tasks I will often switch to a lifting knife. I made this small lifting knife from a 1/2″ Starrett hacksaw blade a few years ago in a workshop with Jeff Peachey and use it just about every day.
The total time to make this tool was less than an hour and the material cost is quite low. After grinding the teeth off of the hacksaw blade and rough shaping the round edge using a belt sander, the final sharpening was done by hand. The handle is just thick horse butt leather cut to shape and adhered with PVA. Because the high-speed steel makes sharpening fairly quick, I find myself more likely to resharpen this knife than others in my collection made from harder steel.
A recent acquisition that I have been experimenting with lately is this micro-chisel made by Shanna Leino. With a bit of stropping, it is incredibly sharp and I find that it can do certain tasks better than a scalpel.
One method of mechanically removing a solid, brittle accretion is to press a blade vertically, very close to the edge of the layer and break it off (Ashley-Smith, 1992, p. 30). Of course there are many variables to consider on whether this is a safe or effective method to employ, but in cases where I have been able to use it, the micro-chisel works wonders. I suspect that it will also come in handy the next time I am creating a model of a wooden board binding, particularly for shaping the sewing support channels.
I really enjoy experimenting with different hand tools and applying simple modifications to improve them. What is your favorite hand tool?
Ashley-Smith, J. (1992). Science for conservators: Volume 2 cleaning. London: Museums and Galleries Commission.
We have two external book drops available to library patrons. The “Bostock” book drop is an aluminum box that sits under an archway between our two library buildings. It is somewhat protected from the elements by being under a stone archway and nestled against the library building. The “Drive By” book drop is a powder-coated steel box located at the back of the library near the parking lot. It sits in a sunny spot and is exposed to the elements. Last fall, a coworker in Circulation came to me with his concerns about the conditions of the books he retrieved from the external book drops. He said they often felt damp and even warm. I thought it would be interesting to put a HOBO datalogger in each of our external book drops to see what was happening inside.
Last August we put one HOBO in the Drive By book drop for a short test. I knew it was likely to be hot and humid in that box. I was eager to see the actual data. My advice? If you aren’t prepared for the truth, do not seek it. At its hottest, the Drive By box reached 131 degrees Fahrenheit. At its most humid it reached 99% rH.
That test brought up a lot of questions. Since we were moving into the cooler and drier fall and winter seasons, we decided to do a longer test during the spring semester. This January, we put a HOBO in each of the external book drops and set them to record at the same time and interval rate so we could compare them to each other.
This afternoon I downloaded the data for the past week. This week was a typical North Carolina winter week. We had low temps in the 30F’s and high temps close to 60F. There were rainy days and sunny days.
You can see that even in winter that steel box gets quite warm on sunny days. The humidity levels range from very wet to very arid. The aluminum box has its extremes, but they don’t spike as high as the steel box. It’s interesting to think about how the different metals, and the different locations, may be effecting the interior conditions.
I do not expect external book drops to have perfect preservation environments. I am, however, concerned about the extremes these environments present. I’m sharing this data with the Head of Access and Delivery Services so we can figure out what, if anything, we should recommend to the library in terms of these boxes.
I really love these HOBOs. They are easy to use and reasonably priced, and the data can be easily downloaded in a variety of ways. Henry wrote a review of these HOBOs recently if you are interested in learning more about them.
This coming summer Duke will host a 2016 NEH Summer Institute, titled “The History of Political Economy”. In preparation, the library is putting together a small exhibit of complementary materials from our collection. One of the items that will be on display is our first edition set of what is widely considered to be Adam Smith’s magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Smith’s 1776 text is most commonly known for coining the phrase “the invisible hand” to describe forces which guide free markets.
I am a big fan of the NPR podcast Planet Money, and over the years I have learned quite a bit about the significance of Smith (and this work in particular) through the show. Therefore, I was very excited to for the opportunity to examine this item and address some of the condition issues for each volume. While Smith is mentioned frequently on Planet Money, two episodes explore the man and his work in greater depth: “Adam Smith, Mama’s Boy” and “Adam Smith and the Not So Invisible Hand“.
The two volumes of this edition are in matching tightback bindings with single raised sewing supports. The spine and corners are covered in green goatskin with green marbled paper siding-up the boards. The spines are extensively decorated with gold tooling and there is some blind tooling on the faces of the boards. While I cannot determine if these are the original bindings, they appear to be contemporary to the text. The goal of this treatment was to stabilize each book, reattaching any loose pieces and making the bindings functional for safe display or use in the reading room. My repairs attempt to satisfy this goal with minimal alteration to the appearance of the books.
The first volume was in better condition, but had been damaged at the tail of the spine. The joints were splitting along this panel, the tailcap was missing entirely, and the leather was continuing to lift where the damage had occurred.
While the sewing supports all remained intact and the boards were securely attached, the splitting along the tail end joints and the risk of additional loss was a concern. After fully lifting the leather away from the tail panel of the spine, the textblock spine was lined with thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. An extended lining of bias-cut airplane linen was then adhered on top. The extended pieces of this lining were split and adhered on either side of the board using David Brock’s board reattachment method. Finally, the volume was rebacked with a thick Kozo fiber Japanese paper, toned to match the original leather. All original covering materials were readhered.
The front board of the second volume was nearly detached, hanging on by just a single thread! I began by carefully lifting the leather at the boards and spine to gain access to the textblock.
As with the first volume, new structural board attachment was created with bias-cut linen transverse spine linings. The spine was rebacked with toned Kozo paper and the original covering materials were re-adhered. The edges of the reback material were lined up with the edges of the existing leather, to visually blend the repair materials with the original covering.
Repairs to the interior of the text were kept to a minimum as well.
It appears that the endsheets of both volumes had been replaced at some point with a thin wove paper. These new endsheets had become creased and were developing cracks and tears along the folds. Using local humidification techniques, the creases were flattened and tears were mended with thin Korean papers, toned to match.
The second volume features an interesting blank leaf with a large bookplate adhered to the recto.
The catalog record indicates that this item once belonged to Prince Lieven, the Russian ambassador to London from 1812-1834. This leaf is currently around 1/4″ shorter than the rest of the textblock and had a very poorly repaired tear along the head edge near the spine. During treatment, I was able to release this repaired piece and reattach it correctly along the tear. Strangely, when the torn corner was put back into place, the height of the leaf matched the rest of the textblock. My best guess is that the top edge of this leaf had become damaged at some point. Possibly when the new endsheets were added, this leaf was hastily repaired and trimmed down to have straight edges.
The last issue for me to deal with was the somewhat awkward enclosure. In more recent years, someone had constructed a double slipcase for the two volumes.
Each volume was also placed inside a cloth-covered 4-flap enclosure.
This was actually an enclosure solution that I had not seen before, and is a nice addition to my post about restraining enclosures. While the 4-flap does mitigate some of the dangers of a slipcase that a standard chemise cannot cover, having two books in one slipcase makes handling much more difficult. The case doesn’t have pull tabs or an easy way to extract a single book. The user must tip the entire set forward so that both books will slide out simultaneously. As you can imagine, this can be quite dangerous if the user isn’t being observant. Additionally, the 4-flap creates a very large footprint when open (see above). As these enclosures were made fairly recently and not artifactually significant, we discussed with the curator the option of replacing them with standard cloth-covered clamshell boxes.
With the new board attachment, consolidated covering materials, and simpler enclosures, Mr. Smith is ready for engagement with human hands again. Check back with our Exhibits Page to see when this and other exciting items from the collection go on display.
It’s hard to say what a typical day in the conservation lab might be, or what skills you will need when you show up for work in the morning. What makes library conservation challenging is that you need to know about not only books and paper objects, but paintings, art on paper, furniture, sculpture, indigenous and folk art, photographs, analog and digital A-V materials, media of all kind from the dawn of mark-making, etc. The list of what we need to know is endless because libraries and archives collect broadly, and the conservation needs of these collections can be complex. This list doesn’t even cover the parts of library conservation that include budgeting, planning, managing people, environmental monitoring, attending meetings, and all those things that keep the Conservation program running smoothly.
Yesterday I was reflecting on the life of a collections conservator as were doing some out-of-the-ordinary work. I was asked to write condition reports for the three portraits in the exhibits suite. I’m not a paintings conservator, but I do know how to look at an object and describe its condition in enough detail that someone can understand the state of that object now, and determine if any changes occurred in the future. I found the Canadian Conservation Institute’s excellent reference materials online regarding evaluating paintings to be very helpful in my evaluation. I have also collected condition data on the two historic pieces of furniture in that room. I didn’t find a CCI document on writing condition reports for furniture, but they do make available a lot of furniture care and handling information. We have no paintings or furniture conservators on staff, but my skills are such that I can describe them for our records and help facilitate their conservation should the need arise.
When they were ready to go back on the wall, Henry Hebert from Conservation, and Ben Bridgers from Exhibits, rehung the portraits.
This morning, we helped put the book collections on the shelves that line the exhibits suite. It took about an hour and a half and eight people to finish the job. The exhibits suite is now ready for the weekend’s events.